5/8/2001 -- --
Washington, DC—As Congress considers two bills that would roll back environmental protections at hydropower dams under the guise of “streamlining,” a government report released today by the General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the agency responsible for regulating hydropower dams lacks the data to accurately analyze the efficacy of its licensing process. The report comes just days before that same regulatory agency reports to Congress on ways to make licensing quicker and cheaper for the hydropower industry.
In light of GAO’s findings, American Rivers, American Whitewater, and Trout Unlimited—three of America’s leading river conservation organizations—and more than 70 grassroots groups from across the country today called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to get its shop in order and urged Congress to strike damaging changes to the hydropower licensing process from legislation currently under consideration in both the House and Senate.
According to GAO’s report, until it does a better job collecting data on the cost and timing of its process, “FERC will not be able to reach informed decisions on the need for further administrative reforms or legislative changes to the licensing process.”
FERC issues and oversees operating licenses for approximately 2,500 hydropower dams across the country. Licenses last 30 to 50 years, and upon expiration a dam owner must apply to FERC for a new license. This licensing process requires consideration of ecological health, water quality, and recreation in order to bring dams up to modern environmental standards. Over the next decade, the licenses for more than 400 dams affecting 130 different rivers will expire, representing only 2% of the nation’s energy mix.
“Today’s report from the General Accounting Office illustrates that the hydropower industry and their lobbyists have been pacing the halls of Congress with a solution in search of a problem,” said Andrew Fahlund, Policy Director for Hydropower Programs at American Rivers.
“Congress should not consider any changes to the licensing process until FERC can convincingly demonstrate that the process is flawed,” added Matt Sicchio, Coordinator of the Hydropower Reform Coalition. “The risk to the long-term health of our nation’s rivers is simply too high to rely on anecdotes from the hydropower industry.”
Two major bills pending before Congress include changes to hydropower dam licensing that would harm the health of the public’s rivers. Congressman Joe Barton’s (R-TX) “Electricity Emergency Relief Act” would allow dam owners to waive environmental protections at hydropower dams during times of electricity emergencies, despite the fact that several utilities themselves maintained in recent public meetings that there is little energy to be gained from such measures.
Senator Frank Murkowski’s (R-AK) “National Energy Security Act of 2001” includes changes to the licensing process that would effectively eliminate the ability of federal resource agencies to enforce minimum environmental protections at hydropower dams.
"We have an opportunity to leave a legacy of healthy rivers with thriving fish and wildlife for our children and grandchildren," added Steve Malloch, Western Water Council for Trout Unlimited. "But the Barton bill would make more certain the extinction of salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest, and the Murkowski bill makes recovery more difficult. When my grandchildren ask where the salmon went, Mr. Barton and Mr. Murkowski may have to answer."
“Hydropower licensing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to modernize these dams to protect our rivers and the benefits they provide to local communities,” added John Gangemi, Conservation Director for American Whitewater. “Any changes to this process should improve environmental quality and recreational opportunities, not diminish them.”
In addition to the pending legislation, FERC is expected to issue a report to Congress next week in response to a request from Senator Murkowski (R-AK) that the agency find ways to “reduce the cost and time of obtaining a [hydropower dam] license.” The Hydropower Reform Coalition is concerned that despite inadequate data to support their conclusions, FERC will blame other federal and state agencies for costs and delays in the licensing process.
“GAO’s findings suggest that FERC cannot credibly answer Congress’ question,” added Fahlund. “FERC should take a long look at its own practices before pointing fingers at others.”
American Rivers, founded in 1973, is the nation’s leading river conservation organization. For more information on the FERC relicensing process, visit www.americanrivers.org . American Whitewater is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to the conservation, restoration, and enjoyment of whitewater rivers (www.americanwhitewater.org ). The Hydropower Reform Coalition (www.hydroreform.org ) is a coalition of more than 70 recreation and conservation organizations across the nation dedicated to protecting and restoring rivers impacted by hydropower dams. Trout Unlimited's (www.tu.org ) 130,000 members and 500 chapters are dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of North America's trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds.
Andrew Fahlund, American Rivers (202) 347-7550
John Gangemi, American Whitewater (406) 837-3155
Matt Sicchio, Hydropower Reform Coalition (202) 347-7550
Steve Malloch, Trout Unlimited (703) 522-0200